Any positive gain in the opioid epidemic is worth celebrating because each life is priceless. Good news also re-energizes those committed to addressing the crisis. And it is a crisis, as we all know.
Last week, Minnesota Department of Health announced that preliminary statewide data shows a 17% decrease in overall drug overdose deaths in Minnesota - from 733 in 2017 to 607 in 2018.
Emphasize preliminary, but more death certificates listing the cause as an opioid overdose will trickle into the state office.
Nevertheless, the news is heartening. Perhaps education about the risks of opioids and availability of naloxone or Narcan, which can reverse an overdose if given in time, are making a difference.
The seven-county metro area accounted for most of that decline, about 100 fewer deaths there. Considering that St. Croix and Pierce counties are part of the Twin Cities metro, this is good news for western Wisconsin as well.
The decrease is just the second one Minnesota has seen since 2000, when the rising trend of opioid-involved deaths seemingly began. In 2009, opioid deaths exceeded 400 for the first time, dropped below that again in 2010 but then began a steady climb.
Wisconsin also exceeded 400 opioid deaths for the first time in 2010. The numbers reached 622 in 2014, dipped slightly to 614 in 2015 and by 2017 had reached 916. The 2018 number hasn't been released yet, but one can hope it will mirror Minnesota's.
"It's encouraging to see this turn-around in the trend in 2018 as Minnesota has implemented a broad range of efforts to prevent opioid misuse and combat the overdose crisis," said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm.
But he made clear this is only a start: "This is good news, but we want to emphasize that this is still preliminary data and that overdose deaths continue to remain at historic highs. There is still much work that needs to be done to end this crisis and mitigate its effects."
Work that starts right here, in our community.